It’s pretty easy to get behind on a dissertation. It’s hard work. You have to really want to do it and be able to sustain the emotional, intellectual, financial, political and relationship strains that the process places on you. Sometimes it feels like hell.
Satan will tempt you with plenty of good reasons for avoiding the dissertation. Perhaps your academic advisor has demonic tendencies and tends to savagely criticize your ideas or drafts, so you avoid work to avoid dealing with them. It could also be that you are unsupported and completely unguided and afraid to ask for help. Or you need to change directions in your research but you are hesitant to admit it because of all the additional work and time that would entail.
You might enjoy research but despise writing, so you avoid it more than you should. Learning disabilities, dyslexia or inadequate writing skills can play a role in this. Other needs, like working to feed your family, might use up all your good time and energy. If you stay away from the dissertation for too long, the thought of re-entering the project might seem like stepping into a lake of fire. Ouch.
But dissertation procrastination is a compact with the devil. He promises sweet relief from pain through postponement, but he wants your PhD in exchange.
Here are seven tips for exorcising Satan from the dissertation process:
1. Do research on the available advisors in your department before you choose to work with one. Ask students who have studied with the advisor how the dissertation process went. How long did it take, what hurdles arose, how helpful was the advisor? Much pain can be avoided when you take time up front to get reliable information of this sort.
2. When it is clear there are conflicts with an advisor, attempt to resolve them. If good faith efforts to create mutual understanding are unsuccessful, consider changing to someone else sooner rather than later. There are several challenges with this process and I have addressed them in an earlier post.
3. Develop with a weekly writing schedule. Stick with it even when you’re uninspired. You have to keep nibbling at the thing even when it feels like it will never get done. Group support is helpful to keep the momentum going over the months. If no dissertation support groups exist at your institution, start one.
4. Try to avoid overworking. A 24/7 hard-press on a dissertation may be counter productive over time and lead to burnout and project loathing. Go to a movie once in a while even if you feel guilty doing so.
5. Keep in mind the reasons why you want the degree. What is the light at the end of the tunnel. If the dragons of anxiety or depression raise their heads, get some support or counseling. Don’t give up.
6. Break up the writing into discrete segments so you aren’t focusing on the whole project every day. It’s too overwhelming to work that way.
7. When you hit a seemingly impenetrable wall, and you inevitably will, take a deep breath, resist panicking and remind yourself that getting stuck is part of the process, and though the answer might not be clear right now, you will find a way. Talk to someone helpful, go for a walk, take a hot bath and see if an answer emerges.
Jesus once proclaimed to the devil “Get thee behind me!” That’s where you want the dissertation to be as well.
And for comic relief…check out: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php